Model, Modeling Firm Legend & Icon Omar Albertto gives the inside perspective.
LASM x TDR: So let’s take it back to the beginning Omar. Did the modeling start in Panama?
Omar: No. I used to swim for the national team of Panama. I was a swimmer. Fashion was never, not even a word in my vocabulary at all, zero. I had possibly one pair of jeans and my wardrobe was what speed was wearing for the next meet. My towel. I live across the street from the pool. So I live in a pool for literally nine years of my life. So, and traveled to Latin America because I went to Colegio La Cien. We have Colegio La Cien in every Latin country. So I would go spend six months in Venezuela, or six months in Lima, Peru, or six months in Argentina like that and exchange change student, things like that. Because the curriculum was the same. And then I came to America in ’76 to go to Orlando… But I got off the plane in Miami, South Beach and we, I didn’t like it. So I asked for my ticket and I met a Dominican guy and he said he was going to the world tomorrow. I’m like, I want to go to the world.
LASM x TDR: The world? Was that a club?
Omar: The world with Latinos, the hip world, the hip word was the world, was New York.
LASM x TDR: New York. I love it. I learned something.
Omar: The world, New York…. So he’s like, I’m going to take a bus. So I call my brother and I told him I was coming. He said, let me get you a ticket. I’m like, no, I’m going to take the bus with this guy. I took a bus, took about, I don’t know, no, like in 19 hours. It was a cool trip. I had so much fun. I saw the country; I mean had a couple of experiences. I was really weird. I was pretty scared because I didn’t speak that much English at the time. And I went to port authority. My brother picked me out…
I guess eight months being in this country, I had a life changing moment. I stumbled upon a place called Studio 54… I am walking down the block and we see this big 54 and Ricky says to me, “That’s the place we saw on the news last night where like famous people go. Let’s go see and we see famous people, so let’s just walk through.” And it’s literally 200 people outside of this place trying to get in… For two kids from Panama in New York City, now you’re in the biggest night like in the crème de la crème of the world. And you are wanting them, and you have $8 possibly between both of us. We’re looking around and we know nothing about fashion or anything like that. We don’t know who these people are. But I became fascinated with one table because it was so amazing. These people that were at this table, they were such characters to look at, like so diverse. There’s this guy with the white jacket and his black turtlenecks who smokes like this, the name is Holston. But I don’t know who he is. There’s this short guy with fucked up blonde hair with glasses, with this little camera… I’m a dude from Panama. I’ve never been around a homosexual human, anything like that. And next thing I know, I’m staring at this black man on the dance floor because there were probably four black people in the whole place. I’m staring at this guy… He’s like six foot four, beautiful body, black too long, and lean, tight as leather pants. He had these black cowboy boots, beautiful black Elsa Peretti belt with the silver thing and a white fur jacket, and he was twirling these two women. And this one is called Liza Minnelli. This one is called Bianca, but I don’t know who these people are. Of course, I’ve just seen them in movies, but I’m new in this country and he takes his coat and throws it on the side and this black dude picks it up who looks like Buckwheat. This black dude looks exactly like Buckwheat. He’s wearing cargo pants with paint all over. His hair was fucked up, red glasses; he had an army jacket on… He’s going to the VIP trip table and everybody’s giving this guy so much love at the VIP table and he knows all the fabulous models. And I’m just like, everybody’s up that table. So I saw a world that, obviously, I stayed all night. I stayed till they threw us out and we never looked back. I saw a world that I said, this is my call. This is the world I want to be part of.
LASM x TDR: This was, this was all before you began even step foot on the stage to do any type of modeling.
Omar: Zero. I’ve never done anything like that, I know nothing about fashion. But I saw something that night that woke me up and I said, “This is what I want to do. I want to be in this world.”
LASM x TDR: That’s an amazing introduction.
Omar: Ricky and I went to Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn with 15 bucks… We bought a pair of pants. Then we bought some fabric. Ricky took the pants up hard, cut the fabric, and remember how to patch it back together. Made me a pair of pants, made himself a pair of pants, and the next weekend, we went back to studio.
LASM x TDR: And the guy remembered you and he was like, come in.
Omar: We went back to studio and never got any problems at studio…. I flew every weekend that I was off to go to Studio 54 from Milan. I lived in Milano. I became a model from Studio 54. I got this covered by a very famous Italian designer who met me in Studio 54. He actually tried to pick up on me. I felt bad because I’m like, I don’t want to mislead you. I’m not, it was a tough night because I went back to the studio, my coat was stolen, my girl left me, and my boys left me. I was pissed… But anyway, three weeks went by and I get a letter from his office… with American Express, $750 and a one way ticket to Milan, “for you to be in my show, to be a model for my show” [they said].
Omar: And I’m like, what, me, model? That’s kind of weird, model. I don’t know about that. And my friend Ricky says, “What are you doing? You’re not doing anything.” … So I went and did my first casting, obviously he was going to see him, designer club Eula Viola. And I went to see him at his studio and they’re all taking my measurements and I spoke a little bit of Italian at the time, not like I do now, but I spoke a little bit because if you speak Spanish, you have at least a good 35% basics of Italian.
And as they’re taking my measurements, the women are like, no, this is not possible. Like this is no, no, this guy’s a freak. Like no way. No. So they say, call Claudio. You call the designer, tell him he needs to come down here and look at this and happened that I had the exact measurements as the dummies. Every inch. Neck lines…
LASM x TDR: I think that’s such a sign… Shout out to the dummy.
Omar: Exactly. He calls the biggest agency in Milan and he says, “You got to meet this guy. You got to see him. And I went to Lima del Carbugui. They signed me up, and I did 8 shows my first season, and then after that I did like 33 shows per season between Milan and Paris.
LASM x TDR: What year was this Omar?
Omar: ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80… Those are special days in fashion. Those were very special days in fashion that will never come back.
LASM x TDR: So fast forwarding, you land in LA, what year was that?
Omar: ’85. I head to LA to work for an agency called East West. East West at that time was owned by David Hartman. South African man who at the time was dating the number one female model in the world, Alexa singer… I don’t think any female has had as many covers in one year than Alexa. I hope I said that right. Like you never get the same girl twice in cover book. She, I think she probably even did like three or four months because she was that beautiful and she was the favorite of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. You as a photographer, she know, you probably know those names. And those are masters in that industry.
LASM x TDR: Icons.
Omar: Iconic photographers. And we know they open up an agency here and it was pretty easy because what she did, she recruited another 10 of her best friends that were taught models, joined this agency called East West. And it was her, Carla Bruni, Monica Bellucci, Lauren Hill Mills, all these iconic supermodels. And the agency open. And then my friend who worked there said, you guys should meet my friend Omar from New York. It’s like really great with men. He’s making a big name in New York for himself and he’s my best friend. And you should bring him out. I came out, met them, they didn’t like me… Well, they didn’t want to spend the money and expand in an immense division. So I’m like, oh good. I was, go back to New York and I was going to work at Elite and, because he used to be my agency when I was a model. And then I get a call back from my buddies like, Hey, I made a deal for us. Just get back out of here. I told them, just get us an apartment. Don’t pay us any money and we’re good. Watch what we do. And I came back, and for six months, I did it the way I knew how to do it from New York, which is the aggressivity of a New Yorker. You get on the phone and your hustle… Yes. It’s just like, let’s do business…
In L.A.everybody’s kind of slow in L.A. And you come with New York, f* is in your vocabulary every 10 words. So I didn’t do too good in my beginnings in LA. It was pretty ugly because people were not receptive to me. My name is Omar. I got a crazy accent. The craziest voice like, what is this guy? So I wasn’t booking any business, so I’m about to get fired. So, and my buddy tells me, “They’re going to fire you, and like 6 months, I know what you could do, but they just don’t get it. And it’s been 6 months ain’t shit happening, it’s like you haven’t built that business…” There was a very famous video of Michael Jackson, the way you make me feel, remember that video?
LASM x TDR: And that was ’80s, later ’80s.
Omar: “The Way You Make Me Feel.” The girl walks in and Michael is just following her, that was like the love of my life at Studio 54.
LASM x TDR: Like Lily, that was your girl?
Omar: I haven’t seen her in years and now she’s famous… And so there’s all this paparazzi going on like… I’ve never seen Paparazzi like that. I’m from New York. Do you see that? And this photographer for came up and said, “Hey, can I take a picture of you two?” and takes a picture of her and I, and he goes, “What’s your name?” And I said Omar. He goes, “What do you do?” A model agent and the f* picture comes out in the newspaper like the next day. And the photographer Herb Ritts, the most famous powerful photographer in the world calls my office. Now, I’ve been trying to call this guy’s office for more than 10 years and never picks up my phone…
Omar: And he calls, the receptionist says, Herb Ritts, is on the line one! I’m like, yeah, whatever. Yeah, Herb Ritts is calling me. So I picked up my phone. “Hi, which one of you assholes want to play a joke on me.” He’s like, no, hi Omar this is Herb. And I’m like, “Is this is really Herb Ritts?” He is like, “I saw your picture in the papers and I think you have a great eye and you have such great style. I’ve seen you around town with your boys.” Funny part about that story is none of these guys he’s seen me with are models. None of them. The only one that was a model was Billy Wirth, by this time Bill is famous. He had just done the movie “Lost Boys,” very iconic eighties vampire movie. Billy is the only one that had fame but the rest of us were just regular guys. Chris Brancato, who now happens to be the writer and creator of the show Narcos. David Duchovny, we all know each other from New York so we all, when we are in L.A., we all get together… So I really don’t know why he’s talking about it. And he says, because I like you so much, I want to send you this boy. I think you would get him. Nobody else would understand this boy. And He sends me this boy, his name is Tony Ward which even today, 2018, is still one of the most famous models.
LASM x TDR: I love the way you were saying these names. So humble Omar, like you’re saying the name so humble, and everyone, you’re naming is iconic.
Omar: Well, they’re my boys. It’s weird because they are iconic. But you understand they are my boys. I’ve known them from zero. So that’s why people sometimes see my posts and they say like my son, and they’re like, how many kids do you have. They’re like; I thought you only have one son. I said, no. I mean I have my son. Some of these kids like the stories behind it. My male models are really, really a beautiful story. It really is. Because last year, all these years in my career, it hit me last year what the trick has bee. I never ripped anyone I didn’t want to be friends with. If I can’t be friends with you, I don’t really want to f* with you. I’m not that guy you call and say, Hey, I got this famous actor; he just broke up with his management. Can he meet with you? I’m like; I like that one good too. He’s the hottest shit. But I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. When you look at Tyrese, I look at Tyrese and go, yeah, I did that. That’s my boy. I found that. When I look at Djimon Honsou, I go as me. I got that card started. When I look at dudes like Mario and people who have known me. And Mario go back to his New York, the guy. There’s so much history and it’s kind of cool. What you got to see, you got to understand where my head is these days? I don’t live the lifestyle of a person who’s 61 years of age. I’m 61 years of age. I don’t have the lifestyle of a 61 years old. I don’t know.
LASM x TDR: No. You’re still in your 20s. You look amazing.
Omar: I live. You understand. I listen to, I f* love trap music… Can you see me turn up in the club? … I played ball in concrete. I smoke weed, I drink. I am not like the healthiest guy in the world. I hike Runyon Canyon every day. That I do. I love cold water.
LASM x TDR: He’s just dropping jewels for all you men out there.
Omar: My favorite one, which a lot of men don’t want to hear about it. But let me tell you the greatest thing, cold water immersion. I swim in 35 degree pool. I swim three minutes. And what it does is wonders. What it does to your body, to the brain is incredible.
LASM x TDR: I have to rewind a little bit because you mentioned Herb Ritts, right? And then, we have L.A. Style Magazine that we brought back 3 years ago.
Omar: … I’m glad you brought that up because at the time ’85 L.A. Style was the number one most powerful magazine in Los Angeles.
Omar: So what happens was because of the success of my agency and the photographers that surrounded that area, that period, Matthew Ralstons, Herb Ritts, Paul Jasmin, these all photographers that we all grew together. So L.A. Style was like our collaboration. I’ll tell you funny enough, and you and I are going to meet again cause this is a very touchy thing. The best gathering I went to this year was for photographer Matthew Rolston… So we all got together. We went, it was phenomenal. Fantastic. All these people so mad he looks at me, says, you know what, let’s put together a breakfast where we all meet but we only got to do 40 or was that know each other from that era. None of us bring our phones… We kick it like we used to 30 years ago. Like let’s do it. And it was entire L.A. Style bunch showed up, Elisabet Rojano. Anne Crawford who was the editor. Michael Lee was one of the art directors. I mean Raymond Lee in his fancy green suit. I mean it was, Paul Jasmin walked in, the place almost drop when jazzy walked in. We’re like, oh my God; we got him out of bed. Paul Jasmine is God just the greatest of the greatest, my teacher in photography and to appreciate photography. So you are reopening L.A. Style. I give you props. You have your hands into something that could be something incredible. That magazine was truly, truly amazing. Powerful, beautiful, cover. Beautiful editorials, beautiful writing. Hip, very, very hip. Very hip. Always.
LASM x TDR: It was nostalgic, but it was still ahead of its time. And the only one of its kind.
Omar: And funny enough in the modeling world is one of the few magazines now that I think about it, that the tear sheets, the photographs that you got out of these magazines were compatible to work outside of LA. L.A. has never been respected outside of LA. Even when I had my New York agency, I never really relied on L.A. editorials. We possibly, you look at Detour magazine and, but LA style was, you got six pages in LA Style. You could go out and book your model and get money. You got powerful tear sheets. Phillip Dixon, some of the greatest covers.
LASM: I say we are reunited and resurrect. Absolutely.
Omar: Let me tell you a quick story. The biggest model in the, I cannot say his name. Well this was back in ’85. The biggest model in the world was my boy and he’s coming to L.A. for the first time to do work for L.A. Style with Phillip Dixon who was genius, master. So he comes to L.A. and we, at the time, the hottest restaurant to go eat were Cha Cha Cha, Melrose and Virgil, that was the place to go. Small little dive restaurant. You’ll see De Niro there, you’ll see Madonna there. It was just the shit. Mario Tamayo owned it, whose best friend was Anne Crawford editor of L.A. Style. So, we used to live, oh my God, where am I going with this story. I have so many L.A. Style stories you don’t understand. You have to understand that the family we had. That’s L.A. Style family, those photographs, those editorial, you look forward to booking those jobs. And the people in LA, agencies in L.A. hated me. Hated was cool. We had this shit in like a lot. And then we just started getting also photographers of international, power to shoot for L.A. Style. You have to meet them because one of the problems I have with today’s kids is not respecting the older or where it came from, how it originated. Like educate yourself, because don’t just rely on Google. Read about it. Go to the museum. Let your brain explore your creativity as opposed to just Google and the f* thing. And as I said, L.A. Style was a very important period in the Los Angeles, in the economy. A magazine sold like there was no tomorrow.
LASM x TDR: So Omar, for the guys that are coming up, what advice would you give a young man like yourself that’s coming up through this new industry, this new entertainment industry that’s not driven on, you know, being at the right place at the right time. Is built upon avatars and being inside of the Matrix. What would you tell the artists that are coming up now?
Omar: It’s my favorite subject as a matter of fact, because people say, “What advice do you have?” And this is the advice I give, especially to millennials, because just started in these clients in their late teens, they’re trying to get in the game. So I have good news for them and I got bad news for them. That’s how I start all my meetings and I said, “Let me give you the good news. You created a big ass giant world and you opened up Pandora’s Box, called it Instagram. And you open the f* door to everybody. That’s the good news. It goes with the bad news. You opened up the door to everyone. That’s the bad news. So now the way you make yourself, the word is relevant. F* you. How pretty you are?” Because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the sexiest and the prettiest, they are broke. Why bring something to the f* table in whichever capacity you got it. Do it. Because you guys created this shit. So go get yours. What is it that you want to do? Go get it. When it becomes tangible, talk to me and then we could grow together. But I’m not building your shit that you started. You started this mess because we had rules… You ruined it. Our rules were, you are a model. You have six pages in L.A. Style. Those pages get you possibly that job for American Volvo, Acorn, and Dana as publication. The better the publication, the more your status grew as a model. You work with the masters; your rate f* went up.
Omar: But see you guys invented this fucking thing called Instagram and say, I want to take my own pictures called selfies, which 20 years ago, I don’t care how hot you are. You walk into my agency; you’re not going to make it through the lobby. Trust me and I don’t know which agency would have accept watching who took these pictures. Oh, I did it myself. Get the fuck out of here. Don’t waste my time. Go find somebody to take your pictures. So the advice I have to make this round, the advice is brings something to the table. What do you got? What do you got? Every one of my client got something. What’d you got your paint? I paint. You want to paint? Paint. We’re going to sing. Okay. Sing. Go get it. Don’t worry about the modeling part. Let me worry about that part. I find that client that’s going to pay money for your look. So fuck that. Let’s take it to the next level because now I need you to grow those numbers. And there’s only going to be with the work you put in, not me. We are going to do it together. But the pressure is on you because you created it. So the advice is bring something to the table because the beauty ain’t going to cut it anymore. It’s impossible because they’re all pretty. You think about it. You’re pretty, you’re pretty, you’re pretty, and you’re pretty. You’re pretty. So why should I pick you? Why should I pick you? What do you got? So that’s what, I shut it down quickly in my meetings now. Quickly, can I have a meeting? What do you have?
LASM x TDR: Now, they have edits.
Omar: I just met a girl who said to me, I want to, I said, what do you want to do? She says, I want to represent brands. In which capacity? Well, wearing their clothes, but that’s just a girl. Pretty girl. There’s, I could go on Instagram and find 50. And guess what? Out of the 50, 20 might do it for free. That’s another thing millennials created. You fucked it up. You fucked up everybody’s mind. God bless the model agencies that are in existence today. There’s a lot of wall. A friend of mine and I were counting last week of relevance in fashion. There’s probably like 38 right now. In 90s, you ever literally 10, 15, 38. Everybody’s breaking away. This one right here in this building. That’s amazing. This is one of the best in the world, is right here in this hotel. Scott, he used to work for me. I don’t know if Scott is. He’s killing it. But I, it’s a whole different business. The pages don’t, I mean, you kind of hit with such powerful pages to be relevant. I mean, possibly if you get American Vogue, which I don’t see it because American Vogue is, it’s a high end catalog. At the end of the day, it’s going to be the same girls that have those high following. No disrespect to the models of today. Gigi and Bella and, hey, I’m glad they’re doing their thing. It’s just not the supermodel that I’m used to.
Where can we find you on your social media so we can start to follow the epic journey that is Omar.
LASM x TDR: Where can we find you on social media?
Omar: It’s easy. Just Omar for j-u-s-t Omar for, Just Omar for is my personal.
LASM x TDR: I want you to know I watch you every day and I’ve been following you ever since we met. Seeing what is in your life is so amazing. It’s really bigger than just one episode of Trip Digital Radio with L.A. Lifestyle Magazine.
Omar: Thank you. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I enjoy you guys.
LASM x TDR: We have one question. And I need to know before you go. Omar, what is your superpower?
Omar: Love. I love everybody. I love everybody. I love everybody. I’m not mad at anybody. If you told me this person is an asshole- I’m going to kill them with love. That’s powerful. And if I break it down to you, you may want to try it. You want to hear it? So this is what you do. I equate everything to numbers. So let’s say you are 30 years of age and you just broke up with your girlfriend. You were with her for 2 years and you broke up with her and you’re heartbroken. This goes for either girlfriend or boyfriend. So in other words, you lived 28 years of your life without this human and you were fine. So now you’re saying that this human came to your life for two years and disrupts your life. That tells me you’re weak. You haven’t lived. You don’t have enough in your head or in your experiences to erase two years. So, watch my madness, the Omar method. Whoever I meet, I’m going to kill you with kindness and love. Why? I may need, I may never see your f* ass again, ever. So what can you possibly say bad about me? If you love when I saw you. Why would you say something bad about me? And if anyone ever says something wrong about me, they’ll stand up for me and say, you know what? I met him and he was very nice to me and very kind. So you know what? I don’t appreciate you talking about it. So keep it to yourself. Keep it moving. And that’s the story of my life. I give, so love, all about love.